Probe needed into Saudi use of Cdn. arms: NGOs

The Canadian Press
Lee Berthiaume

OTTAWA–Some of Canada’s most prominent human rights and arms-control groups are demanding the Trudeau government launch an independent investigation into reports Saudi Arabian forces used Canadian-made armoured vehicles against civilians last year.
The call comes after Global Affairs Canada conducted its own review that determined there was “no verified, credible information” to suggest Canadian-made Terradyne Gurkha vehicles were used to commit serious human rights abuses in July, 2017.
In a letter to Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, Amnesty International Canada, Project Ploughshares, Oxfam Canada, and others said that probe was deeply flawed, which is why an independent review is required before more such weapons are exported.
“We issue this call because it is our view that the internal government report on the allegations . . . reveals shortcomings both in the investigation of the allegations and in interpretation of Canadian obligations under international law,” the letter reads.
“These shortcomings suggest that a thorough review concluded by an independent and impartial expert is now required to adequately address the serious questions and concerns that remain unresolved.”
Among their concerns is that Canadian officials believed what Saudi counterparts told them at face value, and that the officials played down the country’s poor human-rights record while emphasizing its economic importance.
Most of the attention has been focused on a $15-billion contract signed in 2014 that has seen Canada provide a steady stream of light armoured vehicles from the General Dynamics Land Systems plant in London, Ont. to Saudi security forces.
But Ottawa also has approved the export of other arms such as Gurkhas, which are manufactured by Terradyne in Newmarket, Ont. and described as modified Ford F550s that have been armoured and can accommodate machine-guns and other weapons.
Some of those Gurkhas were deployed during a security operation in the eastern town of Al-Awamiyah in July, 2017, whose predominantly Shia population has harboured long-standing grievances against the Sunni government in Riyadh.
Video and eyewitness interviews allege the Gurkhas were used to surround the town and, while ostensibly trying to rout an armed group hiding in the community, ended up firing into populated areas and killing several civilians.